When my husband and I set out to have a second child, we never imagined we’d be blessed with a bonus baby. But sure enough, when I went for my first trimester ultrasound around the eight-week mark, there it was: the image of twins floating around in my belly.
That day, we experienced a host of emotions, ranging from unadulterated happiness to complete and utter panic. Adding not one, but two children to the mix was going to be a challenge not only logistically, but financially. We realized we’d need to be really smart – and creative – if we wanted to keep our costs manageable.
If you’re new to parenting or are expecting a baby, it is important to realize that there are ways you can cut down on expenses. Here are a number of ways you can start.
How to Save Money Caring for a Baby
1. Use Subscription Programs for Common Supplies
It’s no secret that babies go through a lot of diapers – anywhere from 6 to 12 per day. At roughly $0.25 apiece, the expense can really add up. The same holds true for supplies used in conjunction with diapering, such as wipes and ointment.
An easy way to save money on diapers and the like is to sign up for a subscription program. Retailers like Amazon.com and Diapers.com offer discounts for commonly used supplies, and all you have to do is sign up in advance to receive your monthly hoard by mail. There’s no downside, as you can cancel your subscription at any time, and you only pay for each batch once it actually ships.
My husband and I are paying about two cents less per diaper, and $3 to $4 less for a month’s worth of wipes and ointment via our subscription program. By my estimate, we’ll save $200 this year on diapers, wipes, and ointment alone.
2. Try Nanny/Babysitter Sharing
For some working parents, daycare just isn’t an option due to logistics or lack of space (some centers can have waiting lists of one year or more). Having a nanny can be more convenient and less stressful than shuttling an infant to and from daycare, but the downside is that they tend to cost even more.
According to BabyCenter, nannies command $500 to $700 a week ($2,167 to $3,033 a month) on average for full-time care. To save on costs, try finding a nanny share situation with another local family. While it’s true that an additional child adds to your base rate, you can still come out ahead financially by splitting the total cost down the middle.
The same strategy can be applied to babysitter costs. If you’re planning a night out with another couple in the area, arrange to share a babysitter instead of each getting your own.
Back when it was just us and our toddler, my husband and I used to split the services and expenses of a babysitter with friends who had a similarly aged child. Our sitter’s rate was $10 an hour for up to two children, so we managed to cut our costs in half by taking turns driving our kids over to each other’s houses.
You may even find it beneficial to set up a babysitting co-op or exchange with other families. By doing so, you always have babysitting services available – as long as you’re willing to reciprocate when it’s your turn to sit.
3. Take Advantage of Daycare Referral Programs and Prepayment Discounts
Though often billed as a more affordable option than hiring a full-time nanny, daycare in the U.S. is far from cheap. According to Child Care Aware of America, in 2011 the average cost for full-time infant care in a center ranged from $4,600 to almost $15,000 a year.
To help allay some of those fees, ask if your center has a referral program, allowing you to be eligible for a tuition credit if you refer a friend who signs up. Many centers offer such programs, and some even offer financial incentives just for encouraging friends to take a tour.
For example, my local center offered a $25 credit for every parent I brought to the last open house. I brought two couples with me, and even though neither signed up, I still received $50 off that month’s bill.
Another option to look into is a prepayment discount. Many daycare centers bill their customers weekly or monthly, but yours might cut you a break for prepaying the entire year. You may need to stretch your budget to fork over the money up front, but if you can swing it, you could knock 5% to 10% off your annual bill.
4. Employ Smart Shopping Strategies
Sometimes, all it takes is a little advanced planning to get the best deals on baby gear. If you know your baby is going to need a winter coat at some point, shop for one in the spring or summer, when all the leftovers from the previous season are marked down on clearance. As a general rule of thumb, the best time to buy clothing for a particular season is right after that season ends, when retailers are desperate to move inventory and discount it accordingly.
Unfortunately, there’s no particular time of the year when non-seasonal baby gear – items such as cribs, high chairs, and strollers – are notably cheaper. However, with most items, you can save money by purchasing the prior year’s model.
Since many baby stores don’t keep older models of strollers and high chairs in stock, it may be best to try finding them online. If you’re willing to buy used, visit sites such as eBay or Craigslist; for unused items, try Amazon.com, which tends to have a pretty decent inventory of older models.
Always be careful when purchasing a car seat. This is the one thing you never want to buy used. An older model with a normal safety rating is fine as long as it’s no more than five years old – but be certain that it’s in new, unused condition and that it comes from a trusted source.
5. Join a Rewards Club
Diaper companies and baby product retailers tend to offer rewards or frequent shopper incentives as a way of encouraging brand loyalty. Pick a diaper brand early on and sign up for its rewards program. Then, save the codes that come on the packaging and add them to your account every week. Before you know it, you’ll have enough points to snag some free supplies.
Similarly, sign up for a rewards card for every baby retailer that offers one. You can rack up store dollars over time, and as an added bonus, you’ll receive coupons and sale notification emails to help you save even more money.
6. Sign Up for Free Samples
All you need to do is type the words “free baby samples” into Google to instantly find dozens of offers. You can get samples of everything from formula to photo shoots.
In other contexts, free samples can sometimes be too good to be true (meaning, not so free after all). But when it comes to baby supplies, “free” often does mean “free,” with no monetary strings attached. The only “cost” involved is the requirement of submitting your email address so that these generous companies can flood your inbox with announcements and offers galore.
7. Ask for Hand-Me-Downs
When I was pregnant with the twins, my husband and I let it be known that we were happy to accept hand-me-downs. As a result, we snagged a number of essentials from friends and neighbors who no longer needed baby gear.
One couple gave us a practically unused baby swing. Another gave us some toys and a stroller, and several families let us raid their basements for gently worn clothing. We easily saved ourselves hundreds of dollars simply by asking and not being picky.
8. Avoid Formula
One of the most heated issues across the parenting spectrum is the breastfeeding vs. formula debate. While there are differing opinions as to which is more nutritionally sound, one thing is for sure: Breastfeeding is the cheaper option by far.
Even if you’re pumping and therefore spending money on the supplies that enable you to do so, you’ll still come out ahead. The cost of formula ranges depending on whether it’s powder, liquid, organic, or formulated for babies with allergies. But it can easily run upwards of $100 a month.
9. Make Your Own Baby Food
At close to $1 a pop for regular brands – and almost double if you go organic – those little jars of baby food can quickly lose their appeal. Instead of spending anywhere from $3 to $10 a day on pre-made baby food, try preparing your own baby food.
A standard blender or food processor is all you need to whip up a host of cheap, healthy meals. Some easy things to start with are nutrient-rich vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and peas. Simply cook and purée them until they reach a soft, smooth consistency.
10. Create a Baby Registry
Even if you’re not planning to have a baby shower, you should still register for gifts at your local baby store. For starters, this can help steer your potentially generous friends and loved ones toward the baby items you need the most, thus helping you avoid an influx of adorable but totally unnecessary teddy bears and other such plush offerings. Also, many retailers offer a registry completion coupon that could save you anywhere from 5% to 20% off essential baby gear – items you were planning to purchase anyway.
Some shops may even give you a free goody bag just for creating a registry. The last time my husband and I did this, we got free bibs, wipes, baby lotion, and other such useful supplies.
11. Make Your Own Toys
You know how people are always saying that when their babies get presents, they spend more time playing with the boxes and wrapping paper than the toys themselves? Well, there’s some truth to that – when you’re dealing with infants, all you really need is some color and texture to keep them happy and stimulated.
In this regard, boxes and wrapping paper work just as well as actual toys, only they’re much cheaper. Just be sure to exercise caution and inspect them carefully before offering them to your infant. Avoid staples, sharp edges, or anything else that could cause your baby harm.
12. Set Up Flexible Spending and Dependent Care Accounts
Like daycare, healthcare costs are growing increasingly expensive. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing babies tend to be good at, it’s picking up all sorts of unsavory germs, which can translate into multiple visits to the pediatrician and a first name-basis relationship with your local pharmacist.
Over time, all those co-pays can really add up. That’s why if you have children, and an employer that offers one, a flexible spending account can make sense.
As per IRS guidelines, with a flexible spending account, you can allocate up to $2,550 of your annual income to healthcare costs on a pre-tax basis if you’re married and filing your taxes jointly. If you fall into a 30% tax bracket, you can save roughly $750 a year for doing nothing other than making the appropriate election on your benefits form.
The same concept applies to daycare expenses. With a dependent care FSA, you can allocate up to $5,000 annually if you’re married and filing jointly to cover daycare costs. Using the 30% tax bracket example, that’s a $1,500 savings over the course of the year.
The major catch with regard to healthcare and dependent care FSAs is that your money is allocated on a “use it or lose it” basis. In other words, if you decide to put $2,000 in your healthcare FSA, but only manage to rack up $1,500 in eligible expenses, you’ll lose that last $500. To avoid this, be sure to calculate your medical and childcare expenses carefully before committing to a specific dollar amount.
Yes, your little bundle of joy is going to cost you a ridiculous amount of money, especially in the beginning. But it’s not all bleak. Before you know it, your baby will be a full-fledged toddler, and the days of diapering and buying new clothing every other week will be far behind you – and with that will come not only a lot more freedom, but a lot more wiggle room in your budget.
What additional ways can you suggest to save money on baby care?